Thursday, June 28, 2012

Dawson's Creek: Home Movies (3.4)

It's no surprise that Joey and Pacey are all about the flirting lately. I've always been a firm believer that real romantic love comes from unexpected stumbling, not something lengthy and over-analyzed and historic. It's why Joey and Dawson never work out as a couple, since they're always falling back on old resentments and the very fact that they almost know each other too well. I'm not sure if Joshua Jackson and Katie Holmes were a real-life item by this point, but the two of them continue to be ridiculously endearing together. Their relationship is classic romantic comedy, the goofy, reckless guy and the uncomfortable, straight-laced girl who can't stand him.

Dawson's Creek: None of the Above (3.3)

Dawson's Creek has always sourced drama from tossing a cat among the pigeons. It opened up all the initial conflicts as far back as the pilot, with Jen the rebellious outsider who threw everybody for a loop. Then Abby took over that position, and stayed there for a while. Eve is the latest incarnation of that same character, but here we get metatextual references to that very fact -- she's a credibility-straining newbie whose entire presence allows other characters to react badly to one another. She's the seductive temptress to Dawson, Joey gets jealous, which by proxy pushes her into Pacey's arms, and so forth. But the insanity of Eve renders her completely useless, since every action she instigates feels ham-fisted and awkward. It actually lends this opening stretch something of a surreal, dream-like vibe... but I'm not sure that's at all what the writers had intended.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Charmed: Imaginary Fiends (7.20)

They really exhausted the Wyatt character by this point, am I right? This is another story about Wyatt being taken over by evil, only this time Future Wyatt is dragged into the present day where he once again becomes that leather-clad mumbly-voiced villain with evil facial hair. It's interesting to see a show that explored moral ambiguity so successfully in the recent Avatar arc unsurprisingly return to obvious characterization. Like always, good and evil are treated as two vastly separate ideologies, awkwardly discussed by Wyatt as he whines at his parents for raising him 'good'. Ugh. It's ridiculously mundane.

Charmed: Freaky Phoebe (7.19)

Having now entirely ran out of ideas, Charmed's quality pretty much relies on stumbling across decent actors who can elicit some fresh sparks out of stale material. Guest stars, obviously, since we'd be stupid to expect any real effort from most of our tired regulars anymore. Freaky Phoebe's A-plot only works because of Suzanne Krull, a character actress who entirely nails Alyssa Milano's voice and mannerisms and helps lift yet another 'sister possessed by evil' story into something far more entertaining than it has any right to be.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Angel: Sacrifice (4.20)

Almost as a parallel to the season itself, Sacrifice sees the Angel team literally running on empty. But because it's one of those placeholder episodes designed to fill the gap between two major story developments, it winds up appearing like nothing but a bunch of people running on empty. Therefore, the most successful idea raised here is also the episode's weakest. There's an interesting angle to all of this in that Angel has literally no clue how to stop Jasmine, and I liked that sense of abject ignorance of any get-out scheme or means of attack. It's relentless badness. But, at the same time, the writers struggle to get out of that well. Because, naturally, our heroes have to stop Jasmine at some point. And what they come up with is... eh.

Buffy: Touched (7.20)

I'm sure this episode was insufferable for those in the audience who dislike Buffy and Spike. Thinking about it, this whole storyline seems very pro-Spuffy. They're pretty much the only characters not wrapped up in the collective batshit buffoonery slowly infecting the Summers home, and with that comes a lot of, gasp, rational thinking. For me? I actually adore these two, even if it sometimes feels wrong that they're so isolated in their character consistency. Touched has a couple of wonderful scenes for the two of them, the show finally unearthing their relationship and laying all the cards on the table. It's moving, poignant and actually adult.

Angel: The Magic Bullet (4.19)

The Magic Bullet opens in complete juxtaposition to the season as we've known it so far. In what works as a direct antithesis to the Beast's sun-blocking fire and brimstone earlier this year, we've now arrived in an Angel permanently bathed in bright sunlight, with peace and happiness spreading through the streets of Los Angeles and everyday people being overcome with joyful rapture. But another cool parallel burns through this episode, with the outward peace only masking the paranoia and suspicion directed at the renegade Fred, as well as the casual treatment of self-destruction in the name of God, and the fact that Jasmine has been, you know, eating folk behind closed doors.

Buffy: Empty Places (7.19)

I remember at the time believing the last ten minutes of Empty Places ranks down there among the very worst things Buffy ever did. But... I don't know, I still have numerous problems with it, but I think I understand what they were trying to do. I keep reiterating it, but this whole season has been about Buffy's journey to becoming a trusted, successful leader -- and the idea of discomfort and mutiny within the ranks would naturally fit into that. And I don't think it's wrong to state that Buffy's plan to head back into the vineyard feels a little misjudged. So in principal, I get what they were going for, and I somewhat understand the motivations of the ensemble. But, damn, those pesky issues can't be ignored.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The X-Files: Hellbound (9.8)

I feel like whenever the show focuses on Reyes, her worst qualities rise to the surface. I'm not sure if it's Annabeth Gish's performance, or the lack of subtlety when it comes to the writing -- but she always adopts this strange intensity, speaking in this low register and tossing around wild theories in this monotone delivery. Gah. I understand that people never liked this character, and while I didn't have a huge problem with her last season, the constant repetition of those same moments, where she's staring blankly while reading some elaborate monologue, have gotten seriously old. Annoying.

The X-Files: John Doe (9.7)

There's a lot of warmth to this episode, both in the over-saturated lenses that director Michelle MacLaren uses to capture Mexico's intense heat, but also in Doggett's final epiphany. Doggett has always been a character running from the truth. He's had moments where he seemed to come around to extreme possibilities, but this season, in particular, he's settled back into skeptical mode, ignoring the supernatural right in front of him. But John Doe cleverly turns this around, Doggett forced to embrace the sometimes painful truth in order to regain his entire memory. It's a moving finale to what's already an intriguing episode.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

ATVC 2012: Miscellaneous...

No spoilers, so... you know, whatever.

Yup, there's actually a lot more TV out there that I tuned into this year. A couple of sitcoms, some very, very bad shows that I spent far more time watching than was necessary, and a couple of shows that ended up languishing on my DVR for so long that clearly something was amiss with them. So I tossed together a couple of brief paragraphs, nothing that goes into great detail, but somebody out there may like 'em.

ATVC 2012: Ringer

Spoilers abound, so beware.

22 episodes, CW (September 2011 - April 2012)

I wasn't exactly eager to write about Ringer anymore. I'd already spent a year writing the same complaints over and over again that writing about it even more just had to be some form of sadomasochism. So I'm going to try and keep this short, for everyone's sanity. It sort of goes without saying that Ringer was the disappointment of the year. We watched Sarah Michelle Gellar for seven years on Buffy, in which she proved to be a freakishly multi-talented performer with an enormous range, somebody just at home playing a zany comedy moment as she was pummeling a demon in the face with a hammer. But, as much as I adore her and have this eternal goodwill for her as an actress, she rarely did anything of note on Ringer. You would assume that playing soapy twins would be an actor's dream, but Bridget and Siobhan ended up being personality-challenged drones, just as directionless as they were hard to give two shits about.

ATVC 2012: Revenge

Spoilers abound, so beware.

22 episodes, ABC (September 2011 - May 2012)

It's something rare whenever a series arrives with an instant awareness of exactly the type of show it wants to be. Even rarer is when that 'type' is so schizophrenic, pulling from radically different genres at a time, but remaining consistently true to the characters and the tone that the writers are reaching for. I'm not somebody who gets all crazy over Revenge, since there were naturally growing pains along the way during its freshman season, but it was by far the network surprise of the year -- a deftly intricate and grandiose soap opera with dynamic themes and characters, which always fell on the right side of camp to truly work.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

ATVC 2012: Nikita

Spoilers abound, so beware.

23 episodes, CW (September 2011 - May 2012)

A risky strategy in Nikita's first season was its tendency to play its cards too quickly, meaning Nikita and Alex's covert partnership was removed mid-season, Nikita and Michael coupled up after only briefly dancing around the subject, and Alex's Division status propelled forward before you could really settle into her character's position of power. Season one was spectacular, but there was always that risk that things were running so fast that stories could quickly dry up. This season, there were definitely annoying side effects to that. But it seems to be the CW's prerogative, as I hear that most of the network's drama series bombard you with plots that get introduced and resolved within two or three episodes. It's obviously a peculiar complaint, since you don't want to slow things down so much that the show becomes turtle porn, but the fast pace sometimes becomes so frenetic that you lose sight of character and narrative.

ATVC 2012: Mad Men

Spoilers abound, so beware.

Mad Men
13 episodes, AMC (March - June 2012)

Every show around has fans who think that it's the greatest thing ever. I'm sure there are a bunch of people out there who think television has really reached a creative peak with NCIS: Los Angeles, you know? But, honest to God, isn't Mad Men just the best series around? Season five was a long time coming, and finally arrived with this overt sense of direction. It's always been a show that was keenly aware of its own identity and the stories it wanted to tell, but the amount of levels and areas of ambiguity that crept into every corner this year blew my mind. Stringing together a bunch of superlatives sometimes reads as needlessly elaborate, but Mad Men is a series that absolutely warrants that level of praise. There's nothing else like it around, and five years in still manages to raise complex moral dilemmas and add new shading to its wonderful ensemble.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

ATVC 2012: The Good Wife

Spoilers abound, so beware.

The Good Wife
22 episodes, CBS (September 2011 - April 2012)

During its first two seasons, The Good Wife really felt like a cable series that had hijacked Tuesday nights on CBS. It was dense and intricate and powered by an ensemble of ambiguous characters driven by potentially alienating desires. The way it folded serialized storytelling with absorbing standalone legal cases was unparalleled, while the insight into law as a product was consistently fascinating. Season three, while still able to surprise every once in a while, felt very much like a CBS drama. There was an odd stop-and-start feel to the year, in which stories came and went with little fanfare and every episode seemed to be building to something interesting, only for it all to come crashing down into nothingness. It was that sense of a show feigning excitement that ended up killing the year, as the longer arcs were never as absorbing as I'm sure the writers had anticipated.

ATVC 2012: Glee

Spoilers abound, so beware.

22 episodes, FOX (September 2011 - May 2012)

I had a particular identification with Glee's protagonists in its third season, because, at one point in my dark, dark history... I was exactly like them. At 18, I did the drama thing. I auditioned for renowned theater programs, I traveled the country trying to get one of those illusive spots in the most respected theater schools around. I had perfect grades, a great resume, what I thought was raw talent. I worked my ass off. But I came up empty, only getting accepted into my safety schools that weren't at all good enough to warrant the money I had to fork over. Instead, I chose to take some time out, lived, worked, and am now embarking on a future that is already turning out to be a better fit for me, and something that I feel I have a real chance in.

Monday, June 18, 2012

ATVC 2012: Fringe

Spoilers abound, so beware.

22 episodes, FOX (September 2011 - May 2012)

There were definitely moments at the start of Fringe's fourth season where I began to question the decisions of the writing team. The resolution to season three, in which Peter was removed from existence in order to broker peace between both universes, was as arresting a cliffhanger as ever. But as we settled into season four, as entertaining as the show remained, there was definitely that nagging sense that Fringe was merely covering old ground, delaying the inevitable far longer than at all necessary.

ATVC 2012: Enlightened

Spoilers abound, so beware.

10 episodes, HBO (October - December 2011)

Enlightened is one of those rare shows that literally moves me on a deeper level. I sometimes uncomfortably identify with so much of what the show depicts that it almost becomes a parody of my own existence. At its heart is the concept of positivity, and having to dispense of your own personal anger in the face of so much moral degradation. I myself struggle a lot with thinking positively, sometimes allowing my own inner anger at the world to spill over into reality. As much as I know that it's wrong and no matter how much I hate myself for it, it's just incredibly hard to not allow certain feelings to overcome you, especially when you're constantly barraged by people who are rude, nasty and unsympathetic. We live in a world that's becoming rapidly meaner and more aggressive, the years of internet anonymity crumbling away but the dawn of an era of arrogant, exposed cruelty right around the corner.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

ATVC 2012: Desperate Housewives

Spoilers abound, so beware.

Desperate Housewives
23 episodes, ABC (September 2011 - May 2012)

Desperate Housewives was always an unusual series for me, in that it was that rare show that I'd watched from its very first airing until its series finale in real time, only I never particularly loved it past that notoriously attention-grabbing first season. At the same time, it was never exactly a show that fell off, as much as people insisted it did. It had one season that was especially strong, but then quickly dovetailed into a self-consciously zany 'dramedy' that occasionally traveled into darker places. It rarely got explicitly terrible, so it was fitting that its final season was something that left me mainly cold, but was generally distracting while it lasted.

ATVC 2012: American Horror Story

So I wrote a little something. I watch a lot of TV, and while I don't individually review each episode I watch, I like to pull together some thoughts every June about the previous TV season. There are some incredible shows out there, as well as some awkwardly 'blah' ones. There are others that are hideously awful, too. Oh, and Glee. That's in a whole different league. Spoilers abound, so beware.

American Horror Story
12 episodes, FX (October - December 2011)

Whatever your thoughts on Ryan Murphy, it's safe to say that the television landscape would be a hell of a lot less interesting if he weren't around. American Horror Story was one of the most attention-grabbing new series this season, an elaborately-structured and provocative genre show about all kinds of horror -- both natural and supernatural. It's a show where you can see the awkwardly intimate breakdown of a marriage and the bitterness and turmoil that infidelity can expose, as well as a show that features Connie Britton eating placentas and Frances Conroy's porny doppelganger chewing off Armenian peen. Naturally, 'schizophrenic' is something of an understatement.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dawson's Creek: Homecoming (3.2)

It's interesting watching the Eve episodes, because they so go against everything the show had originally said about sex. Whether you think it's at all believable or not, Dawson's Creek always portrayed sex as something romantic and finite, the ultimate act of love and the pinnacle of relationship happiness. It was particularly evident last season with Pacey and Andie, while Joey always seemed to believe in that too. Dawson was more of a grey area, since he was always so insistent that epic romance could exist without sex, but he never actively appeared like a horndog. The Eve story, on the other hand, is lifted straight from an '80s teen movie perspective, and Dawson's actions don't make a whole lot of sense.

Dawson's Creek: Like a Virgin (3.1)

Sure, let's go completely batshit. Like a Virgin is the first of a bunch of maligned early season three episodes, hours that veer so against the themes and sensibilities of Dawson's Creek that you're not entirely sure if you've slipped into an alternate dimension. The blame sits at the feet of the short-lived executive producer Alex Gansa, brought in to replace the departing Kevin Williamson, who single-handedly turned what was an occasionally over-earnest but achingly warm teen drama into this salacious freak show for a couple of weeks. It's so ridiculously wrong, and absolutely hilarious.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mad Men: The Phantom (5.13)

Nancy Sinatra sang that you only live twice -- one life that you drift through, and the other a fantasy. For Don, he's literally lived twice, but this season saw him embarking on something of a 'third' life, a cheat that goes against the message of the song. Megan was his opportunity to start fresh. He wouldn't cheat like he did with Betty. He wouldn't lie like he did with Betty. But over the course of these thirteen episodes, there's been this nagging sense that something was wrong with his new arrangement. Megan was beautiful and talented and admired... but there was a block. There were dizzy highs, and they often made up for the lows, but the inner turmoil Don was experiencing had to ultimately manifest somehow. So the anguish became a literal pain, something he chose to briefly ignore, until it became too much to bear. In the end, he realized what he had to do. They were done.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Charmed: Little Box of Horrors (7.18)

Charmed has fully settled into its post-Avatar, standalone-driven run, and this is another episode that kind of works in spite of all its flaws. The Hope character can easily be called out for being a little too reminiscent of a certain blonde vampire slayer, but I liked the introduction of a new mythology entirely removed from the sisters. It opens up the Charmed world a little, at least implying that the Charmed Ones aren't the only cursed-with-a-sacred-duty ladies in the universe.

Charmed: Scry Hard (7.17)

Does it bug anybody else that Charmed usually introduces a new development, only to have characters fretting over it for almost the entire following episode? We have literally four scenes here with Piper and Leo having the exact same argument about Leo's newfound lack of powers, Piper worried about him and concerned for his safety. It's ridiculous. Similarly, it's frustrating to see everybody make such a huge deal out of demon attacks, seven years after they first began happening. Piper is crazily melodramatic over Leo getting a little cut up, while Paige is similarly shocked when she's told about it. Stop getting so damn jarred by the same thing over and over, people! It's difficult to articulate, but it's like working a manual labor job and getting a little bruised every couple of days. It becomes routine, so you stop being so surprised by it. And yet these characters act as if a new attack on the Manor is something akin to the resurrection of Christ.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Angel: Shiny Happy People (4.18)

Yet again we're thrust into another relentless story arc, and so far this is way better than I remembered it being. Jasmine's arrival marks a major turnaround in tone this year, after the dark foreboding of the last, what, million weeks, here we have lightness and love and goddess worship. It's shocking, attention-grabbing, and in direct parallel to what we thought we knew about the monster baby in Cordelia's belly. Because it turns out to be a statuesque Gina Torres-shaped bringer of peace, which is... new. Torres is spectacular here, her soothing voice and almost alien beauty granting Jasmine this naturally regal and arresting presence, somebody you could believe would be captivating to those around her.

Buffy: Dirty Girls (7.18)

Dirty Girls represents a necessary shot in the arm, especially in light of a run of episodes that didn't seem to know how to work around the First's issues as an antagonist. Caleb, as overblown as he is, is a more tangible threat -- somebody with personality and physical force, who could provide the upcoming finale with at least one villain that can be dispatched on screen. He's also a character that fits strongly into this season's major themes, if lacking any real subtlety. Caleb represents male patriarchy, a caricature of an extreme misogynist who makes Warren look like Gloria Steinem in comparison, the complete antithesis of Buffy's feminine strength and an important antagonist for the last run of episodes.

Angel: Inside Out (4.17)

This is season four's grand explanation episode, the inevitable 'let's stop and actually work out the intricate workings that we've been blindly stumbling through' hour full of elaborate exposition, revelatory flashbacks and mass theorizing. It winds up being more or less a lengthy info-dump, but it's pretty fantastic that so much of it actually makes sense. This has been a particularly dense season, with a story that rapidly unfolded week after week with little breathing room, and it's admirable to see the writers explain away potential loop-holes and some of the wackier characterization this year. As I keep repeating, on second viewing this season is surprisingly logical.

Buffy: Lies My Parents Told Me (7.17)

I touched on it in my review for Get It Done, but Buffy's isolation is continuing to be the driving force this season. One of the most important moments here is Buffy's insistence that, in hindsight, she should have sacrificed Dawn in order to save the world back in The Gift. And that, with the final battle right around the corner, she is prepared to sacrifice the lives of her loved ones for the greater good. It's by far the most successful element of this season -- Buffy becoming the lone, emotionless warrior that she was always fearful of turning into, and her determination to ignore personal problems in a time of crisis. Just like I said two weeks ago, it's not particularly fun to see Buffy wind up this way, but it's an interesting direction to take her in... because it's Buffy becoming the person she assumes she has to be: "It's war, so I'll be the general." She's harsh and frequently creating dissent, but she feels as if she shouldn't care. She's the leader, and those feelings are what leaders should experience... right?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The X-Files: Trust No 1 (9.6)

I'm not sure if this was completely awful. Because I've never been hugely invested in The X-Files on an emotional level, episodes like this wind up washing over me like some kind of floaty mirage. Ooh, the pretty colors. Ah, some interesting video surveillance camera effects. But, when it comes down to it, Trust No 1 literally winds up being a story about nothing. The one notable revelation is that the super-soldiers can be destroyed by some kind of metal alloy, but that isn't at all interesting enough to form a whole episode around. And, once again, we have characters reduced to nothing but weepy cyphers pining over a lost Mulder. The show seems by turns desperate to explore fresh territory with new protagonists, as well as terrified to step out of Mulder's shadow -- still painting him as the definitive over-arching presence on this show, even when David Duchovny is so removed from it that he doesn't actually appear anymore.

The X-Files: Lord of the Flies (9.5)

This is one of those episodes that wraps up generic simplicity in a showy, self-consciously 'wacky' tone, in an attempt to create something along the lines of Bad Blood or Jose Chung's From Outer Space. The X-Files has always been slightly unbalanced when it comes to comedy, sometimes stumbling upon genuine humor with a lot of heart to it, while other times appearing so desperate to reach those Darin Morgan highs that things become strained and sort of embarrassing. Lord of the Flies falls into the latter area, ending up an aimless mess with no discernible purpose.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dawson's Creek: Parental Discretion Advised (2.22)

I apologize in advance for being hypocritical, but this was almost too melodramatic to truly work. Dawson's Creek is at its best when those heady teenage emotions are pushed center stage, and it ordinarily creates some instantly earnest drama. While Parental Discretion Advised does feature a ton of crying and revealing emotional truths, most of the plot devices to get to those points feel painfully generic, and not at all the type of drama that DC usually employs. With fires and suicidal thoughts and drug deals and wire-taps, the finale resembles more than anything an average episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 -- and I'm not sure this show was ever aiming for that.

Dawson's Creek: Ch...Ch...Ch...Changes (2.21)

I wrote last week about the quiet blandness that has suddenly appeared in Dawson's Creek, where everything has become so unassuming that you can't help but freak out. Besides Andie and her mental problems, the show is almost too quiet right now, stuck in a creative impasse and screaming out for some kind of drama. This episode follows suit with that understated feeling, but at least builds to a couple of muted cliffhangers that promise a minor hint of intrigue for the season finale.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Mad Men: Commissions and Fees (5.12)

It had been clear for a while that the other shoe was going to drop. There's been a sense of doom lingering all over the show this season, from Pete's depression to Lane's fraud to Don's new marriage to Joan's indecent proposal. Even if everybody is acting so content on the surface, beneath it all lies so much hurt and pain. So it was no surprise that somebody finally snapped. Commissions and Fees sign-posted its ending from the very start, but remained a traumatic and gut-wrenching experience. This was death that was raw and ugly. It was the final result of a spiral of desperation, a character surrounded by folks in denial, and one last act of almost passive-aggression that can't help but leave a bitter taste in your mouth. But lord was it affecting.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Charmed: The Seven Year Witch (7.16)

Not as teeth-pullingly boring as I remember, but still pretty underwhelming for the 150th episode. The Seven Year Witch is a fangirl shriek in the form of a Charmed hour, full of melodramatic dialogue about Piper and Leo's 'miraculous love' and an annoying Route 66 trial for the big ol' lunk of former Elder. Thank God, then, for Julian McMahon. He doesn't get a whole lot to do, but sparkles with charisma as always, and the script does us all a favor by making him bounce off of Holly Marie Combs and Billy Zane, the only actors on this show right now who don't make you want to reach for lighter fluid and a matchbook.

Charmed: Show Ghouls (7.15)

This is just okay. Show Ghouls has an interesting central premise, with the time loop and the doomed victims and the Pardon My Past-style fashions and time period, but the show never really runs with any of it. Count Roget isn't at all interesting, and the story quickly devolves into annoying out-of-body hijinks soon enough. I did like the thing with the playing cards, and Phoebe's "uh... Surly?" line, but nothing else really stood out.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Angel: Players (4.16)

One of the possible side effects of such serialized-driven seasons like this one is that there are sometimes episodes that turn out to be nothing but elaborate placeholders delaying a cliffhanger ending. Release two weeks ago, while nowhere near a 'bad' episode, stumbled into this problem as it felt like a vast collection of slightly repetitive moments, purely designed to bridge the gap between the event-heavy episodes on either side of it. Players is another hour that struggles to become anything of much use, stranding Gwen and Gunn in a stillborn filler story designed to bide time until the effective cliffhanger at episode's end. Meh.

Buffy: Storyteller (7.16)

There's always been a frustrating dichotomy when it comes to Andrew, since both of his stretches on Buffy featured wildly different character traits. Season six depicted him as this creepy sociopath, with the rape fantasies and outward resentment for anybody leading a successful life. He also had none of the development that Jonathan and Warren had, the former because of his longer tenure on the show, and the latter because of his importance to the stories that rounded off the year. In season seven, Andrew is comic relief -- a goofy, sorta-gay nerd given most of the funny lines. For whatever reason, probably time, there's been little attempt to mesh these two extremes together, creating a character who is obviously funny, but who can't be removed from the rapist loser of season six.